Yutaka Katayama, better known as the “Father of Z,” has passed away at the old age of 105, his son announced on Saturday, Feb. 21.
Katayama was a former president of Nissan Motor’s U.S. operation and was responsible of establishing Nissan as a global brand during the ’70s, a very crucial moment in the company’s history. However, if there’s one thing that immortalized Katayama, it is none other than the legendary Z-car.
During the late ’60s, Nissan Motors was a relatively small automaker and realized the importance of introducing a stylish GT car if it wanted to attract attention from the global market. Nissan envisioned a sports car that would combine style, performance, and affordability and named it the Fairlady Z. The final product combined an attractive European sports car exterior styling with a robust 2.4 liter inline-6 engine producing 151 horsepower.
Before the Fairlady Z arrived to North America, Katayama recognized that the “Fairlady” moniker would not be popular in the U.S. market, and decided to replace all Nissan Fairlady Z badging with a more butch Datsun 240Z instead. The decision was inspired: Nissan sold 45,000 Z cars in ’71, 50,000 examples in ’72, and another 40,000 in ’73.
Not only was the Nissan Z the first dedicated front-engine rear wheel drive two-door sports car from Nissan, it is arguably the first true Japanese sports car for the global market. Previously, Honda had built tiny convertibles with underpowered motorcycle engines. Meanwhile, Toyota built only 350 examples of the 2000GT and sold them for $6,800, which was more than the price of Porsches and Jaguars of the time. The Datsun 240Z was a mass-production “Goldilocks.”
Following the 240Z, Yutaka Katayama was also intimately involved in the “Z33” 350Z project, which was the Z’s rebirth after it was discontinued in 1996.
“A car is a horse. I want to drive a thoroughbred that’s in tune with my heartbeat, but not something that’s too dressed up for someone like me,” Katayama said during a 2002 interview with AP about the Z’s comeback.
In 1998, Katayama was inducted in the Automotive Hall of Fame for his contribution of the 240Z as well as Datsun 510. In 2008, Katayama was honored by the Japanese Automotive Hall of Fame as well.
Katayama is survived by his wife, Masako, two sons, two daughters, 11 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren. At the age of 105, Yutaka Katayama lived a remarkably long life, which goes to prove that Z-ownership is good for your health!
Earlier this week, we shared a listing of a rare original ‘432’ Nissan 240Z available for bidding at the RM auctions. Check out the auction listing here. Be sure to watch this awesome documentary of the iconic Nissan Z in the video below!